Monday, August 16, 2010

My Pen is Lost

When I was 11 years old and my command over English pronunciation was rather shaky much like my peers in the missionary school that I went to, this sentence uttered with speed became a crude joke. So not many of us, who had just started using pens as preferred instruments of writing, complained when we lost one. And in that boarding school there were many a case of lost pens.
In the mid nineties, when I was still a student streching my studies far beyond my intellectual capacity into a PhD course, my friend Daud Ali gave me a Mont Blac pen. Till then I had heard about the iconic brand and seen some samples at stores on Bond street, but had never ventured to ask the price of one or desired to possess one. The first MB pen for me was easy to get. Daud was carrying it in his breast pocket [being an American he was more aware of the brand and its value than I fresh from Delhi was] and all I needed to have one was a short conversation that went like this:
I: Is that a MB pen you are carrying, quite fancy of you to do so on your poor lecturer's salary.
Daud: Would you like to have it?
I: You are not serious
Daud: Yes, I am serious please take it [Did I tell you that Daud was an incipient Communist and did not care much for branded stuff]
The pen was mine. In the post-possession convesation that followed, I discovered that Daud had not bought the pen, he had just found it in the courtyard of the School of Oriental and African Studies where I studied and he taught.
For the next two years, I used the pen a few times only to sign my name on some university papers, preserving the pen with utmost care. For I had realised, that this was something I would not be able to replace any time soon in my life. After couple of years, the pen made its journey back to India. In the summer of 1999, the pen and I found ourselves at an Old Monk party in Calcutta on a special occasion - the occasion was very special for my father in law. The Old Monk was potent, my morals weak, emotions high and tongue lose. It was a fatal combition and in a rare moment of lapse of judgment, I offered the pen to my father in law. Who on this occasion behanved exactly I had with Daud and took the pen from me. That is how my first MB pen was lost.
Good fortune come to me again exactly 10 years later in 2009 when I, again by chance and sheer luck, presented myself for a business chat at a friend's office. The friend, a successful new economy entrepreneur, had got a few MB pens to give away to important people. Although I certainly did not qualify as an important person, he was kind enough to give me the last of the MB's in his gift collection. I do not want to name the friend for the fear that many of you may land up at his door steps to take advantage of his propensity to give away expensive gifts to undeserving people. Suffice it to say, although a successful entrepreneur he is as bindas as Daud in mattters of worldly possessions.
Having lost one MB and having got another one by sheer luck, I did take all the care this time not to give it away in a state of high spirits. However, luck did not seem to have been on my side this time too. I lost the pen thanks to the handiwork of someone who knew its price but not its value.
Since then I have had to do with ordinary pens like Waterman and Parker as I wait for yet another munificience from another friend. I can't yet even after 30 years publicly say "my pen is lost".
Anyone planning to gift me my third MB pen, I promise to keep it safe from strong sprits and weak human beings and much else.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Losing a bit of my past

How can you lose your past? For that matter how can you change your past? I too thought these were not possible, your past was your past - not losable, changeable or even forgettable. But all that change with a brief two minute phone call which casually informed me that that a particular house in a particular town in Bihar was sold. No other details about the sale was available and still is available. Someone ran away with a part of my past and don't even know who it was. The more I think about it more helpless I feel. THe house in question was nothing extraordinary, a two story heap build built in the middle of a 5 acre plot in 1908 by my maternal great grandfather - a local lawyer and a grandee - Jyotish C DasGupta. A rather upright and strict man who lived till the ripe old age of 100. A poor man who had economically and socially risen in life - the first by building up a successful law practice in the district town of Purnea and at the same time marrying [ as a ugly but bright boy] the daughter the local magnate: Kusum DasGupta [a woman of cosiderable beauty and weath]. Nishikanta Sen, my greatgrandmother's father was as seriously well known as he was rich and he was also Roy Bahadur. The land for the house in question was "given" to JCD by NKS to build the house [JCD was stricly against dowry]. The house was the marital home of JCD and KD and was strategically located too. It was just outside the football pitch type compound of NKS's own chateu like house [the original was destroyed in the 1934 Bihar earthquake and the remake still stands: last heard it was taken over by the CPM and converted into a party office, but that is another story!] It was in this house that JCD and KD lived for nearly 80 years of their lives saw the birth of several children [8 of whom survived], saw a few grandchildren, and a fewer great grandchildren and kept them all under their wings till 1979 and 1981 repsectively before they passed away. I had the honour at a tender age to bear on my shoulders both of them to their funerals. Things changed rapidly after that. For a few decades three unmarried children and my grandmother kept the house going with all its verve intact. In the 1990s oly two unmarried daugters lived in the house. The others mainly children of his sons were waiting for the last two daughters to call it a day. One passed away couple of years back, the other is till alive [my mother's family members seem to be blessed with long lives] and has apparently beeen moved to a flat in Calcutta. I should have no attachment to that house: economic, social, emotional. But apprently I do. My grandmother, my mother and I were all born in that house. The house will witness many more births and deaths, sale and resale, but I have irrevocably lost a part of my past and dont know how to recover it.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Where do I belong?

I am a 42 and like all other clever 42 year olds, I was planning my retirement abode when I hit this problem. I like Nashik but can't live there since I am not a Maharastrian nor can I speak Marathi. I like Delhi, but can's speak Punjabi or Urdu nor am I a Punjabi, Haryanvi, Western UPite or Bihari who have traditionally laid claim to the city; I like Kolkata and West Bengal and can even speak the language; but the locals think I do not belong there since I have been an expat for two generations. Orissa and Assam are out because I would be identified as a Bengali there and I do not know the local language... Further north-east people will consider me as coming from India and therefore alien. Southern states too are out of the question, I will not be able to have any meaningful conversation there beyond sign language. Goa? Marathi's and RUssians are already fighting over it. Kashmir ideal by I am supposed to be a Hindu! Punjab no way, they are already chasing out anyone who smells of Bihar. Bihar? not a bad idea since I lived the first 16 years of my life there and my ancestors a few centuries from my mother's side. But Biharis always consider Bengalis as at best friendly aliens. So where do I go? Here is my profiile: I speak Hindi, Bengali and English; am a staunch secularist believing that religion does more mischief in human hands than good; I have lived 16 years in Bihar, 14 years in Delhi, 6 years outside India, 2 years in Mumbai and 4 years in Kolkata? It seems, India has no place for "Indians" -

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Delhi Trafiic and Tata Salt

I just heard that the Delhi Police has launched an ambitious plan to ensure "free" flowing traffic all across the city well before the Commonwealth Games. Taking a cue from the old Tata Salt advertisement of free flowing salt, it has declared that well before the commonwealth games the traffic is Delhi will be flowing freely all across the city. On being contacted by yours truly the joint commissioner traffic patiently described the whole plan.
According to the JC {T}, just a humongous task can not be carried out by the police force alone, therfore the the Delhi Police for the first time has entered into MoUs with other Departments and like-minded agencies to partner. The first to sign was the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and its chief vendor Gammon India. DMRC and Gammon being full of thoughtful people like engineers and MBAs have applied the Pareto principle to the issue [they learnt it it simply as the 80:20 rule]. They have agreed that they will take care of 20% of the city that controls 80 per cent of the traffic. Accordingly, they have blocked the main arterial roads and crossings across South Delhi with men and material and barricades and also caused a major accident on a critical road connecting Moolchand to Nehru Place. With astounding results.... traffic flows in all directions at the same time giving a new twist to the constitutional freedom "to travel freely in any part of the country". The DMRC spokesperson has assured that they would continue along similar lines for many years to come. Delhi Police JC {T} was happy at the way the partnership with DMRC was working out. The Municipal Commission of Delhi, not to be left behind, has joined hands and has made it clear that they too have a few tricks up their sleeves to make sure that the Delhi traffic continues to flow "freely". Asked to elaborate, the MCD Commissioner indulgently mentioned that the plan had been in place for years and comprised the following:
1. Allow pavements to be taken over by shopkeepers [unfortunately there are very few pavement dwellers in Delhi]
2. Give a free hand to civil contractors by never focing them to clean up after themselves and allowing them to pile up materials on the roads
3. Plan to build several flyovers and never complete them
4. Pass on advance information on road construction to telecom operators and Delhi Jal Board so that as soon as road are re-laid they can start digging.
The Commissioner looked surpised that your correspondent did not know these rules, especially since they had been a great success since the days of the Asian Games in 1982.
The JC {T} generously praised the MCD for its insight and the value it brought to the partnerships and criticised the New Delhi Municipal Corporation [NDMC] for its refusal to participate in the partnership faced with political pressure. A thoughtful NDMC Commissioner explained that all the politicians and bureaucrats lived in NDMC area and would never allow such "freedom", true to their ilk.
The most effective step to ensure free flow of traffic has however been taken by the lead partner Delhi Police. Taking a leaf out of the seminal work by Levitt and Dubner - Superfreakononmics, the JC{T} suggested that the solution to all complicated problems are really very simple. We have made sure that the traffic flows "freely" throughout the city by simply putting the traffic lights out of use. We have so far covered about 50 per cent of the city's traffic lights and we are sure that we will achieve 100% success with the traffic lights well before the commonwealth games.
Your correspondent also learnt from reliable sources that Delhi drivers true to their character have taken to this new approach like fish to water and are immensely enjoying their new found "freedom"... one of them, a recent arrival in the city from Jhajjhar {haryana}, quoted an ancient authority "the city air makes you free".